Dear Lactation Consultant,
Hi, I'm 42 years old and the mother of 3 boys; two of which are identical twins. I breastfed all my boys. I weaned my twins 2 years ago this month.
However, I think I may still be leaking a couple drops of breast milk right before I get my period. It is bilateral and only happens during the night while I sleep. I think because I sleep on my stomach and press on my breasts and nipples a drop or two comes out. I noticed it this week but cannot be certain that it has been happening consistently. I usually sleep in a dark navy t-shirt so don't see wet spots. This week, I slept in one of my husband's lighter colored shirts so saw the small wet spot.Is this normal or at least not life threatening?
I don't want to call my doctor (who tends to be WAY too conservative) and go through a barrage of tests only to find out it's milk. After I weaned my twins, I leaked very similarly to what I notice now. Right before my period I would leak milk (right after I weaned). Only back then it was more milk and I could feel the wetness. I would never have noticed this had I not switched the color of my t-shirt I sleep in. I wouldn't even know it was happening.
Thanks for any advice.
"Galactorrhea" is the technical term for spontaneous secretion of milk from the breasts when a woman is not nursing. Any time milk EXCESSIVE milk production continues beyond 3-6 months after weaning, the woman should have a physical exam by a doctor.
It's not unusual at all for mothers to be able to express drops of milky or clear fluid for months or even years after they stop nursing. This only becomes a concern if the breasts produce a large amount of milk for long periods of time. If the breasts stay engorged or lots of milk leaks out months after weaning, or is accompanied by pain and swelling, then there may be a problem.
I can't imagine a doctor running a battery of tests unless the amount of milk produced is significant and unusual. Galactorrhea is not a disease, but it can be a symptom of an underlying health problem that causes elevated prolactin levels. It is possible for pituitary, uterine, and ovarian tumors to cause inappropriate milk production. These conditions may be serious and should be carefully evaluated. Other medical conditions that can cause galactorrhea include hyperthyroidism chronic renal failure, psychosis and anxiety, certain medications, fibrocystic breast, herpes zoster, or severe stress.
Sometimes drugs can be used to suppress milk production, but that's only a temporary fix. Total treatment involves treating the underlying cause.
The type of leaking you are describing sounds completely normal to me. I haven't nursed my son for six years, and can still express drops of clear milky fluid after a shower (but only on one side.) I have a friend who is a nurse who still leaks milk during lovemaking 15 years after weaning her third child, and after going through tons of tests, her doctors could find absolutely nothing to worry about.
Some women just seem to leak more than others, both before, during, and after nursing. Unless you develop medical symptoms such as those described above, then I wouldn't worry about the occasional leaking. It probably does have something to do with cyclical changes related to your menstrual cycle, and doesn't mean that anything is wrong at all.
All the best, and happy holidays!
-- Anne, IBCLC
Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a health psychologist, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and Research Associate Professor of Psychology specializing in women's health at the Family Research Lab, University of New Hampshire. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association in both the Divisions of Health Psychology and Trauma Psychology. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a La Leche League leader, chair of the New Hampshire Breastfeeding Taskforce, and the Area Coordinator of Leaders for La Leche League of Maine and New Hampshire.
Dr. Kendall-Tackett is author of more than 140 journal articles, book chapters and other publications, and author or editor of 15 books including The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood (2005, Hale Publications), Depression in New Mothers (2005, Haworth), and Breastfeeding Made Simple, co-authored with Nancy Mohrbacher (2005, New Harbinger). She is on the editorial boards of the journals Child Abuse and Neglect, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse and the Journal of Human Lactation, and regularly reviews for 27 other journals in the fields of trauma, women's health, interpersonal violence, depression, and child development. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is the "Ask a Lactation Consultant" columnist on Pregnancy.org and serves on the Board of Directors of Attachment Parenting International.
Dr. Kendall-Tackett received a Bachelor's and Master's degree in psychology from California State University, Chico, and a Ph.D. from Brandeis University in social and developmental psychology. She has won several awards including the Outstanding Research Study Award from the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, and was named 2003 Distinguished Alumna, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, California State University, Chico.